DES MOINES — The education reform group Students First gave Iowa one of 11 “F” grades for state education policy in a nationwide report card released today.

Students First is the nonprofit group founded by former Washington, D.C., Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. It’s actively working in 17 states, including Iowa, on education reform topics.

Last year, Rhee visited with Gov. Terry Branstad and select lawmakers on education reform topics. The organization also spent more than $300,000 on state legislative races this year, more than any other independent expenditure group in the last cycle.

Tim Melton, a former Democratic state lawmaker from Michigan who leads the group’s legislative affairs, said Students First will “certainly have a presence” in Iowa this year. He personally plans to attend Branstad’s “Condition of the State” address Jan. 14 when the governor is expected to lay out his education reform agenda.

“Iowa, unfortunately, doesn’t have student-focused policies,” Melton said. “It’s one of only two states that couldn’t get a (No Child Left Behind) waiver. I think that says something right there.”

States were graded in three categories: elevating teaching, empowering parents, and spending wisely and governing well.

In awarding Iowa an “F,”

officials wrote: “The state trails most of the country when it comes to enacting critical education reforms. Iowa does not evaluate teachers and principals in a meaningful way, and it does not link student performance, educator performance and district personnel decisions.”

In addition, it criticized lack of portability in the state pension system and said the state should allow mayors to take control of school systems in low-performing districts.

Other states receiving the “F” grade were: California, New Hampshire, Alabama, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, West Virginia and North Dakota. Louisiana and Florida were the only two states to score above a “C.”

“Michelle Rhee’s so-called ‘report card’ is not surprising nor is it inventive, clever or helpful to the discussion of how to improve student learning,” said Tammy Wawro, president of the Iowa State Education Association. “Her out-of-state perspective is out of touch with Iowa’s public education system.”

Wawro said Rhee doesn’t understand Iowa’s school charter system or its teacher evaluation system.

Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said in an email that Iowa continues to seek “best practices” on education reform.

“Every critique makes us take a hard look at what we will consider in Iowa with regard to educational reform,” he wrote. “So, in this regard, Iowa’s educational reform efforts and research will look at the best states, like Florida, when it comes to their efforts on early literacy and what may or may not be put into practice here.”

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